Steve Chatterton
Will Write for Food

Science Fiction References in George R. R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones”

July 21st, 2016 by Steve

A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series

Before becoming arguably the most well-known fantasy writer alive, George R. R. Martin–author of the A Song of Ice and Fire saga that became the hit HBO series Game of Thrones–used to make his living as a science fiction writer. He made his first professional sale ever to Galaxy magazine when they published his story “The Hero” in 1971. According to Wikipedia, “Although Martin often writes fantasy or horror, a number of his earlier works are science fiction tales occurring in a loosely defined future history, known informally as ‘The Thousand Worlds’ or ‘The Manrealm’.”

First, let us assume that Martin–as a successful science fiction writer–is also well-read in the genre. Second, note that Martin has a tendency to reference other works within his own. This page, for instance, details references to everything from The Three Stooges and Blackadder to Jack Vance and Robert Jordan that can be found within the pages of A Song of Ice and Fire, many of which have been confirmed by Martin himself.

Given that, it seems likely that Martin–whether consciously or not–might also reference classic works of sci-fi in his fantasy work.

I first thought this might be the case when I read Alfred Bester‘s Fondly Fahrenheit in the classic story collection The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964. In this story of a rampaging robot that develops murderous tendencies when the temperature spikes, someone meets a rather gruesome death–SPOILER ALERT–when the robot pours molten gold over her head. It’s a rather specific way to go, yet it’s oddly similar to the way Khal Drogo crowns Viserys Targaryen–brother of Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons–in A Game of Thrones (published more than fifty years later). I thought I was onto something, and my suspicions were confirmed a few pages later when Bester introduced a new character–Jed Stark. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, that’s just one letter away from a very important character in Martin’s fantasy series.

Coincidence? I thought it might be until I put it on a timeline. Fondly Fahrenheit first appeared in print in 1954, when Martin was only six. But it was anthologized in the Hall of Fame collection in 1970, the year before he made his first sale as a writer in the same genre. It’s very likely Martin read the anthology as part of his research into what makes a great science fiction short story–a sensible move for any aspiring writer looking to break into a specific market.

Once I made the connection, I started spotting other things that appear to have been woven into ASOIAF as I read deeper into sci-fi myself. For instance, in Ursula K. Le Guin‘s classic The Left Hand of Darkness I noticed a chapter entitled “The Mad King”–the nickname of Aerys Targaryen, Daenerys’s father. Then I noticed that the setting of the book–Gethen–was a planet of perpetual winter, reminding me of The North, and particularly the lands north of The Wall, in Martin’s series. In addition, one of the central characters, Estraven–the gender-neutral Prime Minister of Karhide–reminded me more than a little of Lord Varys, the eunuch who also had a tendency to speak in confusing ways. Estraven baffles Genly with his fancy talk in much the same way Varys baffles Ned.

After The Left Hand of Darkness, the next book I picked up was Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, and as luck would have it I spotted another line too close to something in ASOIAF to be ignored. At one point in the Clarke novel, Rikki Stormgren–Secretary-General of the United Nations when the Overlords descend upon our planet–says, “We Stormgrens always pay our debts.” It’s very close to the unofficial motto of House Lannister: A Lannister always pays his debts.

That’s all I’ve found so far, but–rest assured–I’ll update this page as soon as I uncover anything else. If you know of any connections I’ve missed, please leave a comment below.

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350: Investing Words

February 3rd, 2016 by Steve


Last time we talked about taking time off after building up a surplus of words. Of course, you can always keep on building up that word count. Instead of saving words for a rainy day, you can save them for an early retirement. The more words you rack up, the sooner you’ll hit your annual goal.

Let’s think of the 350 daily word count not as an average and more of a required minimum. Make time to write every day. Write until you hit that target. Keep on writing until you find a decent place to stop. If you do that, you’ll find yourself progressing to your annual goal quicker. And once you hit that goal, you’ll keep writing, won’t you? Write your little brains out and see just how many words you can get out in a year. And then when the new year rolls around you do it all over again and see if you can beat the previous year’s total.

As of this writing, I’m at 9,534 words on the 22nd writing day of the year. And that’s just on the novel I’m working on. That doesn’t include blogs or anything else. I’m averaging 433 words a day. Today I did over 500, the other day I was just shy of 900. Every day’s a little different and a little bit closer to 91k. If I manage to keep this rate up, I’ll be able to hit the annual target on writing day 210. What? Get out of here. That’s 50 days early. Oh, yeah! That’s over two months ahead of schedule.

It all comes from the power of baby steps. The unparallelled propulsion gained by setting the bar relatively low. Bite-sized chunks on the way to global domination, as it were. I want to write a novel. It’s a big, daunting task. Something I’ve never done before. We’re talking about tens of thousands of words strung together to tell a coherent story. But by splitting the job up into tiny, simple daily tasks, I just might be able to get my first-draft together before Hallowe’en. (I started on January the 4th). Hallelujah.

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350: Banking Words

January 26th, 2016 by Steve


The 350 philosophy helps developing writers get into a routine of writing on a regular basis. With consistency comes consistent quality. But since you’re not making any money writing yet, chances are you have other things you have to do as well. The things you must do to hold down a job and keep your spouse from walking out on you.

That’s where the concept of banking hours comes in. What if you have one of those days where everything falls apart? Those days where you’re the only one that can fix stuff, leaving you no time to write? That’s when you start averaging things out.

Your weekly goal is 1,750 words. If you can’t make every day, maybe you can put in a little bit extra every other day that week. Spread over four days, 437.5 words a day hits the same target, which isn’t asking for too much more. Once you get rolling, you might find it takes only a few extra minutes to hit that goal.

It’s not uncommon to hit your target and keep going. “Just let me finish this one thought,” you’ll say. Or, “Just let me finish this scene.” Or, more often than not, you’ll have a What if? moment and just start writing it through to see where it goes. Whatever the motivation, it’s easy to run over my goal when I get carried away. When this happens, I bank away the extra words and put them toward finishing early or taking a little break. It’s one of the perks of setting a reasonable daily target.

Now let’s assume that like most folks you like to get away every once in a while. Go on vacation. Forget everything for a while. Including your novel in progress. Here’s what you do: change your daily goal. The 91,000 word per annum target assumes 52 weeks of work. If you holiday for two weeks, you can make up for that by averaging out those ten days over the rest of the year. It’ll only cost you an extra 14 words per day. Come on, you can do that standing on your head.

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350: Let’s talk about commitment

January 14th, 2016 by Steve


So, 350 words a day. Doesn’t sound like much. And you get weekends off. And in a year you get over 90,000 words. Sounds great, right?

But how much commitment are we talking about? What does 350 words actually look like?

It looks like many things. In a paperback, depending on formatting and style, 350 words will run the length of a page to a page and a half. That’s not that much. You can read that in no time. Piece of cake, right?

I just looked at my first post in this series, and found I could read the whole thing on my laptop without scrolling. This isn’t some gargantuan pile of verbiage we’re talking about. It’s quite small. Bite-sized chunks of witticism, pint-sized truth bombs, and infinitesimal bon mots. It’s almost impossible to express a complete thought in much less. Well, okay, that might be pushing it a little, but you get the picture.

Various factors will affect how soon you can reach your goal. Mental focus, preparedness, level of distraction level, typing speed, etc. You can reach your goal in under half an hour if you go at an average rate of twelve words a minute. That’s not a lot, is it? It’s not the blinding speed of a secretarial professional, perhaps. But keep in mind you’re not just taking dictation; you’re composing. You’re creating something new the world has never seen before. These things take some time.

To get a better idea of just how much time these things take, I timed yesterday’s writing session. In the span of forty-five minutes I managed to get down 554 words. They weren’t all brilliant, and there’s no guessing how many will survive. But they’re there now. That’s all that counts. The thing is, I averaged 12.3 words per minute (wpm). Not too shabby. Especially when you consider the dogs were being a bloody nuisance the whole time. They insisted on going out and coming back in at least half a dozen times. But even with all that to contend with, I surprised myself and had a productive day. Perhaps you’ll surprise yourself, too.

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350: Day 1

January 4th, 2016 by Steve


Well, it’s that time again. Time to take one of those dumb story ideas of mine and see how far I can run with it. You know, sort of what I tried last year only to throw it out halfway through because I didn’t do my due diligence and my second act turned into this big, mushy, aimless pile of garbage I refused to show to anyone. So this time around I’ll do better. Because it’s almost inconceivable I could do worse.

I’m following Chuck Wendig’s plan to pump out 350 words a day every weekday so I get a finished first draft in a year. See image above for a quick synopsis. Wish me luck.

While I go, I’m going to periodically drop little posts like this. Primarily to act as a diary about the thoughts and planning and processes going into the project, but also as sort of a reference for what 350 words really looks like. It sort of looks like this. This right here. I’m going to make each post approximately 350 words long. So you can read it on your smartphone in the bathroom and finish up before you’re done. So you can see how doable the plan really is.

350 words really isn’t a lot. It’s wee. Tiny. Minuscule. You can do it standing on your head. I’ve pumped out over 200 words already and I’ve barely even started. Because that’s the thing, really: once you get going, once you figure out the thread of the story you want to tell and start putting your ducks in a row you’ll find that 350 words comes pretty darn easy. It’s a simple manner of planning and execution. Now, I’m no expert on the process, but I’m going to do all I can to become one and so help me if I can help others through the same process I’m going to do it.

We’re now just over 300 words. See how easy that was? Virtually painless. Right? Right.

Check back soon for more short posts on my favourite writing guides, my writers group, and all my other tools, etc. Okay, that’s 350. I’m done.

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